Tuesday, August 25, 2015

An Afternoon of Art in Chattanooga

The Hunter Museum consists of a "mansion wing" and a "modern wing".  The modern wing serves for the special exhibits and collections.  The mansion contains the permanent collections of the museum. As you can see, it was a marvelous afternoon to be in Chattanooga.  Almost fall-like.
Jennifer and I enjoyed some art in Chattanooga today.  It was a fun thing to do with her brother who is visiting from out west and her parents who live near us.  I enjoy going to Chattanooga because there are a lot of cultural attractions there, it is much closer to our home than Atlanta and it is easier to get around in.

This trip we wanted to see the Monet and American Impressionism exhibit at the Hunter Museum of American Art.  We have visited the museum a couple of times in the past but not recently and apparently not since I began this blog. Of course, we are both fans of impressionism so this was a perfect opportunity to do something as a family and and get reacquainted the museum and the quaint Bluff View Art District too.

We had an early lunch at our favorite restaurant and watering hole in Chattanooga, Big River Grille and Brewing Works. Since it was a Tuesday the patrons were sparse and the pace was much more relaxed.

The exhibit itself was a good example of the influence of Claude Monet upon a variety of American painters.  There were a couple of Monet's, both very obvious, that caught my eye. Mary Cassatt was featured in 4 prints (drypoint and monotype), but no paintings.  For me, several paintings by Childe Hassam, someone we first discovered in our trips to DC in 2013 and Chicago last year, were the highlight.  The other works were by lesser artists that were interesting from the perspective of Monet's influence but were otherwise rather mediocre. 

This was the highlight of the special impressionist exhibit in my opinion.  A splendid example of American Impressionism by Childe Hassam entitled French Tea Garden, 1910. The red brushstrokes in the flowers and in the vine twisting upward were exquisite. 

After spending awhile in the museum's modern wing, we ventured over into the Hunter's permanent collection located in the mansion.  I was surprised by the rich variety of the collection, which has greatly expanded since the last time I visited the museum.  We saw many forms of American art and sculpture from romantic and neo-classical to abstract and contemporary.  I was actually more inspired with the permanent collection than I was with the relatively small impressionist exhibit.
The Arrest by Jack Lavine.  This nice abstract oil on canvas from 1983 caught my eye. Part of the Hunter's permanent collection.

Helen Frankenthaler, Around the Clock with Red, 1983. A very large abstract which took up an entire wall of the permanent collection.
After taking in the museum, Jennifer, her brother, and I took in the splendid sunshine of the unusually mild, breezy and arid afternoon on a walk through the nearby sculpture garden overlooking the Tennessee River.  It was enjoyable.

We visited the nearby sculpture garden which overlooks the Tennessee River.  This sculpture was of stone heads facing upward with gigantic eyes.

Jennifer gives the stone head sculpture some scale.
My favorite sculpture was Continuum by Sally Rogers, 2012.  It seemed to be made for a blue sky day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Triple Plays and PBRs at Dreamlake

Jennifer and I arrived early and got to spend some time on Dreamlake all by ourselves.  This is a shot of the shaded deck near the dock.
Ron, Eileen, Mark, Clint, and Jennifer at the picnic table.  You can see the lawn chairs in the distance where we sat and watched the sunset over the 8-acre (or so) open field there.  The dog seated next to Eileen is Ginger.  Lily, the oldest dog (and person) this year, can be spotted laying to the left of the table. Except for on Cumberland Island, where there are 'Dillos there are dogs. 
The cabin at Dreamlake as seen from the picnic table.  We 'Dillos have been visiting here since the early 1990's. It has undergone numerous alterations during that time.
Last weekend was the annual Cumberland Island Armadillo sojourn to Dreamlake.  The three-day affair was filled with the usual great food, drinking, swimming, relaxing, music, eclectic conversations that naturally happen whenever we get together.   

Mark was kind enough to give me an extra copy of the Atlanta Braves 50-year retrospective special program book he picked up at a recent game.  I went to a game back in April but did not happen across one of these.  It is a nice addition to the baseball section of my library.  I put it next to my 25-year special edition program.  I joked to Mark that I hope we are both still around for me to give him a copy the 75-year retrospective when it comes around in 2040.

I could blog in depth about a variety of topics discussed at any 'Dillo gathering but let's stay with baseball here.  Flipping through the 50-year program we somehow wandered off into a discussion on triple plays in baseball history.  I told Mark and Ron about the two triple plays I saw in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.  One in 1969 vs. the Cubs, the other in 1978 vs. the Phillies, when the Braves had the youngest infield players in baseball for that season.  Dale Murphy was a first base, Bob Horner at third, and Glen Hubbard was at second.  

The 1969 triple play was a complicated rundown involving a number of different players.  The 1978 triple play was a quick 5-4-3 variety.  The discussion ventured into the wider world of such plays and how frequently they occur.  (If you don't know anything about scoring baseball then some of this post will be Greek to you, sorry.  There's an overview here.)

The cabin at Dreamlake now has wi-fi, which I didn't know. So I didn't have my iPad with me. But Mark hopped online and within a few minutes (the connection is sometimes slow and erratic) found a listing of all triple plays (TP) in baseball history on sabr.org.  We scanned the page for a long time talking about oddities and frequencies. Here are a few things we discovered at the time and, upon further review, I uncovered afterward.

As of this post, there have been 701 TPs in major league history.  By a wide margin, the most common TP is from third to second to first base - 5-4-3.  There have been 84 of those.  The most complex TP (the one involving the most exchanges of the ball to complete) came in 1913 when the Philadelphia Athletics played at the Cleveland Naps.  The ball changed hands ten times in that play, a record as far as I know.  That one was scored 6-2-5-1-5-4-5-6-5-7, obviously an extended rundown play.  It also was the only TP I could find where a single position play (third base in this case) touched the ball four times in the course of the three outs.  Frank "Home Run" Baker was the third baseman in that situation.  

On the other end of spectrum, there have been only a handful of unassisted TPs.  Two by a first baseman.  Five by a second baseman. Eight by a shortstop.  But the play that generated the most discussion was the one TP involving a center fielder (an 8-8-8). That feat was accomplished (or not) by Paul Hines way back in 1878 in a game with the Providence Grays at the Boston Red Caps. It was a puzzle how Hines pulled this off.  Mark, Ron, and I offered various possibilities without knowing the full story. Did the catch the shallow fly behind second with the runner's going, tag second for the force and then tag the runner before he got back to first?  We didn't know.  

Well it turns out the scoring is "disputed." Apparently, Hines did one of two things.  Either he caught the ball on a dead run and tagged third after both runners on base had either touched or passed third (which would have been an unassisted TP) OR he caught the ball, tagged third, and threw to second for the final out (which would have been an 8-8-4 TP).  The question seems to be whether both runners either touched or passed third.  If they did then the throw to second was just precautionary by Hines and it was all "unassisted." You can read about the unusual circumstances here.

Actually, since the scoring on the play is disputed SABR does not count the Hines TP as "unassisted." So, officially there are only 15 unassisted TPs in the books.

That's the beauty of baseball; the depth of the game in any present moment and the depth of the game's history through time.  It makes for great conversations between fans of the game.  Mark, Ron, and I certainly enjoyed exploring the wacky world of TPs and all their historic variations while drinking PBRs, which was another first for me at a 'Dillo event.  I don't recall the last PBR I drank.  It might have been in college.  I might have to revisit another six-pack again before summer is out. Pabst is not the best tasting beer but it does conjure memories...on more than one level.

The debris of last Friday afternoon's partying.  As always, a relaxing time was had by all.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reading The Festival of Insignificance

Ramon wants to see a Chagall exhibit but the line is too long and he doesn't want to deal with all the people so instead he decides to take a walk in the park.  Simultaneously, Ramon's friend, D'Ardelo, has just come from a doctor visit where he learned the results of tests as to whether he has cancer, but D'Ardelo received good news.  No cancer.  He is walking happily along, thinking about his upcoming birthday, when he encounters Ramon in the park.

So begins Milan Kundera's 2013 novelette, The Festival Of Insignificance.  This is his first novel-like work since Ignorance (2000).  Long-time readers know that Kundera is a special writer to me.  I was excited a couple of years ago to learn that he had written a new "short work."  When the English translation from the French became available in late June I bought it immediately.  I read it very quickly over the course of two nights.

It is only 115 pages.  I savored the overall feel of the prose.  It certainly felt like Kundera.  He might be saying something deeper than all his absurdity and light-hearted sadness would suggest.  So it turned out to be the perfect thing to reread at a leisurely pace while in Destin (see previous post).  It gave me a nostalgia for Kundera's greatest works that wrought him world renown in literature.  But here there is no weighty insight.  Here the casual and the bizarre intermingle to a delightful effect.  This is perhaps a farewell candy from Kundera to his readers.

D'Ardelo and Ramon strike up a conversation. D'Ardelo, relieved that he doesn't have cancer, wants to have a party to celebrate his birthday. But, for seemingly no rational reason other than to evoke "the secret charm of illness" he tells Ramon that he, in fact, is dying of cancer. This places special significance on the party in the minds of some characters, a significance based upon nothing but an irrational lie.

Typical Kundera.  The novelette is a wonderful representation of Kundera's serious yet zany, humorous style told in erudite prose with interesting, quirky characters muddling through the absurdity of life.

The primary focal point of the narrative is D'Ardelo's cocktail party as told from the perspective of a few major characters and a small cast of  supporting roles.  The climax comes afterwards back at the park where the friends first met in the classic style of having the beginning and end of the narrative take place in precisely the same location.  In this case it is the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

Caliban, another major character, is introduced about halfway through.  He is an unemployed actor who now assists with catering.  To make use of his true talents he adopts the habit of presenting himself at parties as a Pakistani even though he is French.  Caliban does not actually speak Pakistani so he has invented a language that resembles that tongue. He pretends not to understand French at all. When he encounters D'Ardelo's wife, who is Portuguese, the woman feels a strange liberation by talking to someone without understanding a word they are saying (even though in this case what she is listening to is not a language at all!).

So the wife, who detests the French language she has to speak every day (the novel takes place in present-day Paris), decides to talk back to Caliban in her native Portuguese.  The two characters have a fun time talking to each other during the party in words that neither of them understand, but they manage to communicate enough through smiles and gestures to have meaning to one another.  The wife is exhilarated by the silly experience.

The main characters, for various reasons too complex to get into here, all arrive that the party in a foul mood.  The party manages to temporarily lift their spirits.  What it means of possess a "good mood" is an existential issue addressed in the story. Along the way, Joseph Stalin makes several appearances in the narrative. He does not interact with any of the characters but he is relevant because they tend to think of their respective ages and the passage of time in terms of whether Stalin was dead or alive when each of them were born. Little retrospective antidotes of Stalin haunt the novel.

Here is a detailed example of Kundera's humorous style of prose.  D'Ardelo's daughter sees a famous Parisian socialite, Madame Franck, at the party. She cannot restrain herself from meeting the lady but, unfortunately, she chooses to introduce herself just as Madame Franck has taken a large bite from a plate of food she is consuming.

"She tried to embrace La Franck, but the woman was holding a plate at stomach level that thwarted her.  'Darling!' The girl repeated as La Franck's mouth worked over a great mass of bread and salami.  Unable to swallow the whole thing, she deployed her tongue to push the mouthful into the space between molars and cheek; then, with some effort, she tried to say a few words to the girl, who could not make them out.

"Ramon took a couple of steps forward to observe them from close up.  The D'Ardelo girl swallowed what she had in her own mouth, and declared in ringing tones: 'I know everything, oh, I know everything! But we will never allow you to be alone! Never!'"

"La Franck, her gaze set emptily ahead (Ramon could see that she had no idea who this person was), moved a segment of the mass into the middle of her mouth, chewed it, swallowed half of it, and said: 'Human existence is nothing but solitude.'

"'Oh, how true that is!' cried the D'Ardelo girl.

"'A solitude surrounded by other solitudes," La Franck added, then she swallowed down the rest, turned, and moved away.

"Ramon was unaware that a light smile of amusement was forming on his face."

The profound within the mundane pervades the narrative and, indeed, it serves as the main theme of this intentionally small work.  At the end, Ramon summarizes "the value of insignificance" for D'Ardelo.  "Insignificance, my friend, is the essence of existence.  It is all around us, and everywhere and always.  It is present even when no one wants to see it: in horror, in bloody battles, in the worst disasters.  It often takes courage to acknowledge it in such dramatic situations, and to call it by name. But it is not only a matter of acknowledging it, we must love insignificance, we must learn to love it. Right here, in this park, before us - look, my friend, it is present here in all its obviousness, all its innocence, in all its beauty.  Yes, it's beauty. Breathe, D'Ardelo, my friend, inhale this insignificance that's all around us, it is the key to wisdom, it is the key to a good mood..."

Even Stalin, probably the greatest mass murderer of the twentieth century, who was all-powerful and could make anyone believe anything he said or else face the gulag or death, is humbled by the power of insignificance.  "Recalling the partridge story, he looks mischievously at his associates, especially at Khrushchev, short and round; whose cheeks are at the moment flush red and who dares, once again, to be courageous: 'Still, comrade Stalin, even though people have always believed anything you say, these days they no longer believe you at all.'"

Kundera's intermingling of two narratives, the party in Paris with a (fictional) conversation Stalin and Khrushchev had in Moscow over 60 years earlier, shows his juxtaposition of timelessness as a narrative technique.  This affects the reader, the experience of reading Kundera's prose, much the way William Faulkner's melancholy streams of prose can affect, but in a different style, of course. He did this with great success in his masterwork, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), and he briefly touches that achievement in specific moments here in this much lighter, simpler, tragically smiling book.  As a whole, the work is not that brilliant, like I said, a candy for his readers.

Of course I haven't told you everything.  There is a delightful cornucopia of insignificance in this novel. There is a thread on the sexual aspect of the navel as displayed by young women in contemporary fashion and how that leads to a revelation about angels.  There is a suicide attempt unexpectedly transformed into an act of murder when someone the reader does not know (just a bystander) tries to save the character from death. 

It wouldn't be a work by Kundera if it did not include some impressive philosophical undertones in spite of all the meticulously created absurd mediocrity. There are interesting passages about Immanuel Kant and his birthplace, now known as Kaliningrad and how that city got its name. Stalin delivers a short lecture on the "great idea" of Arthur Schopenhauer.  I have not discussed the happenings of several major characters at all.  You will have to read it for yourself.

Kundera is always economical with words.  All but one of his novels are less than 400 pages, three (counting this one) are under 200 pages. Yet, each work is deeply secular and philosophical and emotional and human. Though he expresses these qualities with a minimum of verbiage, his characters, their experiences, and the narrative concept are not diminished when compared with the lengthy missives of a Tolstoy or a Joyce. Rather, Kundera's works are just as rich even if all those words are not there.  So it is with what is likely his last work in the novel form.  And it is a delight to read even if it isn't something brilliant with its blatant silliness and subtle, brief complexity.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Blue Moon Over Destin

I took this photo yesterday morning about 6AM central time.
It has been about 3 years since we last vacationed in Destin, Florida.  This time we were lucky enough to be there for the blue moon - which only comes around every 32 months or so, about 2.7 years.  So, literally, our trip back to the wonderful emerald water and beach there was "once in a blue moon."

Jennifer and I went out and watched the moon rise on Friday night but our attempts to capture it in a photograph were hindered by darkness and overcast conditions.  It rained almost every afternoon while we were there this time.  

I woke up early, as usual, the next morning and went out on the beach alone and took some photos of the moon as it was setting in the west, the beach and water lit by the pinkish hues of the dawn.

This year we took our daughter, Avery, and her boyfriend with us.  It was a wonderfully slow-paced, relaxing time.

Typical day on vacation...

Rise early, make coffee, have a cup with Jennifer at the the condominium complex's gazebo on the beach.

Back to the condo, read iPad, enjoy more coffee.

Long walk in the morning sunshine along the beach. Followed by several laps in the condo's pool, which is empty this time of morning. Dry beside the pool while quietly laying in the sun.

Back to the condo, granola cereal and fruit smoothies for a late-breakfast, reading a book and the rules to a recent addition to my war game collection. Relaxing as everyone else goes to the beach.

Change clothes.  Out for a nice family lunch at a restaurant. (Our best lunch this year was at Dewey Destin's Harborside Restaurant.  Simply awesome fresh fish and first-class service.) It is easier to get service at lunchtime (especially a late-lunch) than fight the crowds at the dinner hour.

Afternoon napping, shopping (not for me), reading, snacking, drinking, relaxing.  For this trip to Destin there were often thunderstorms this time of day. If no rain then overcast.

Back on the beach for the late-afternoon and sunset.  Only we didn't get to see many sunsets this trip as it was mostly cloudy in the afternoon and evening.

Evening: sandwiches, snacks, more drinking in the condo.  A game of rummy on a couple of evenings. Went to see a movie one night.  Sometimes it rained on and off.

Yesterday was the sunniest day.  Overall the beach was very crowded this year but not so yesterday morning.  I suppose it was a transition period with most vacationers checking out and the next in line not having yet arrived.  We left, too, in the late-afternoon and made the return journey last night, arriving home after midnight under the clear bright light on the post-blue moon.
The water was simply gorgeous as usual at Destin.  This photo was taken early yesterday when most vacationers were in transition, leaving or arriving, depopulating the beach, making it feel much more spacious.
Avery and Jennifer on floats out beyond the wave action.  Both of them say this was the best moment of the vacation.  They had truly arrived.
A family photo on the beach the evening before we left.  It was overcast but still good light for pics.

Schools of various tiny and small fish swam in dark clouds beneath the clear gulf water and bright gulf sunshine.  Once I swam through a small group of them.  They parted and glanced around body for a second or two.  It felt exhilarating, all that tiny fish energy expressing itself around me.
But of all the vacation memories, I will retain the blue moon over Destin as most special because it is a rarity, indeed a first for me at any beach.